Australian SUV sales surged by 25 per cent last year (twice the overall industry) and despite the avalanche of new models, Mazda’s stylish CX-7 still has the goods to see-off most of the ‘Johnny-Come-Latelys’ competing for the dollars of new SUV buyers.
The blend of contemporary good looks, silky-smooth drivelines and outstanding driving dynamics keeps the not-so-young Mazda CX-7 more than competitive in this segment – in fact in 2010, the handsome CX-7 more than doubled its 2009 sales.
A major factor in that recent sales success comes from great work by the smart product planners at Mazda Australia – the most recent upgrades for the Mazda CX-7 lineup brought extra kit but reduced prices for most models.
Mazda CX-7 Overview
Car Showroom has just put the entry level ($33,990) Mazda CX-7 Classic (petrol) through our weeklong test routine. Now well into its model life, in many ways the Mazda CX-7 remains the benchmark for compact SUVs (sometimes called ‘Crossovers’).
Family buyers love the Mazda CX-7 for its looks and space while dads love the top-shelf driving dynamics.
Mazda CX-7 Engine
Amongst the changes in the most recent upgrades for the Mazda CX-7, entry level Classic models (as tested) moved to Mazda’s MZR 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine – as fitted to the Mazda6 and Mazda3 SP25.
Maximum power is 120kW at 6,000rpm and peak torque is 205Nm from 2,000rpm. This is comparable to segment rivals like the Subaru Forester (126kW/229Nm), Nissan X-TRAIL (125kW/226Nm) and Toyota RAV4 (125kW/224Nm).
Drive is to the front wheels via Mazda’s five-speed ‘Activematic’ automatic transmission.
Combined cycle fuel consumption is 9.4l/100kms.
The front-drive Mazda CX-7 Classic as tested is up to 340kgs lighter in weight than its more expensive all-wheel-drive stablemates – thus the naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre powerplant is no laggard and actually delivers good on-road responsiveness at all engine speeds. In fact for the CX-7 application, Mazda’s engineers worked at delivering better engine response at low to mid-range – noticeable from behind the wheel.
Mazda CX-7 The Interior
Inside the Mazda CX-7 always had a premium feel and this has been enhanced in the latest upgrade thanks to new trim materials and a new steering wheel (adjustable for rake/reach for an optimum driving position).
The dashboard gained a new curved upper edge and all models (including the entry level Mazda CX-7 Classic we tested) score the 4.1-inch colour LCD screen on the center console which displays information like outside temperature, maintenance schedules and the reversing camera display.
While Bluetooth is not included in the Mazda CX-7 Classic, the audio system is a six in-dash CD system with fur speakers and MP3 input.
Rear seat accommodation is reasonable and the rear set split folds 60/40 to provide the 400-litre cargo capacity.
The Mazda CX-7 Classic we tested provides a towing capacity of 1,000kgs but more expensive Sports models boost that to 1,600kgs.
Mazda CX-7 Exterior & Styling
The athletic curves have always provided the Mazda CX-7 with a bold on-road presence. Toss-in the large, 66-degree sloping windscreen and strongly sculptured bonnet lines that extend to the A-pillars and the overall look is distinctly ‘non-SUV’ and distinctive from many of the Mazda CX-7’s more boxy rivals.
We still like the sharply rising belt line (the tapered look adds to the athleticism of the design) and the massive curves for the fenders are again not from the SUV design textbook – usually reserved for slick sedans or coupes.
Mazda’s most recent facelift introduced a larger five-point lower grille (in keeping with the current Mazda ‘family’ look) and new-design fog light bezels.
A new roof spoiler and updated taillights were the only other changes apart from new alloy wheels (17-inch on the Mazda CX-7 Classic as tested).
Mazda CX-7 On The Road
On the road is where the Mazda CX-7 shows its pedigree. You just can’t believe a 1,589kgs SUV stickered at just $33,990 can deliver such high-standard chassis balance, turn-in and responsiveness.
Maybe ‘Zoom-Zoom’ is more than an advertising jingle because this thing is good – very, very good - in ways enthusiast drivers will appreciate.
Sure the first Mazda CX-7 set new benchmarks in this segment, but for the most recent upgrades, chassis changes were small but significant - just increased the body rigidity and new dampers with revised rebound strokes.
And that new 120kW/205Nm, 2.5-litre four-cylinder and five-speed auto aren’t really standouts in the segment, but they’re well matched and responsive across all engine speeds.
As we said, the overall package remains the standard by which other compact SUVs are judged.
Around town we thought we might beat the Mazda CX-7 on a ‘technicality’ – parking. But no, this entry-level model has a standard reversing camera (other brands please take note) and the 11.4-metre turning circle was again a surprise in a vehicle 4,633mm in length.
Mazda CX-7 Challenges
We only deduct points from the Mazda CX-7 for the interior. New models (like the Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage) have brought new-age thinking to layouts and cargo carrying.
Mazda CX-7 Verdict
We can’t think of a compact SUV in this price range which surpasses the Mazda CX-7 for driving dynamics. Like the rest of the Mazda lineup, CX-7’s chassis engineering is right from the top shelf.
And that flows onto areas like refinement and noise suppression – the Mazda CX-7 is quiet at all speeds.
Exterior styling still looks good and the interior trim/quality is typically Mazda high quality.
Where the Mazda CX-7 is lagging behind the very best of the later designs is interior practicality/cargo capacity – mind you the few extra dollars required to move up to the Mazda CX-9 quickly addresses that one niggle.
Mazda CX-7 The Competition
Stand-by for an updated version of Subaru’s Forester, which could upset the apple cart in this fiercely competitive segment. Forester is number one because it’s good and sharply priced.
Toyota’s RAV4 is the second best-selling model but is a serious off-roader, so it can’t match the Mazda CX-7 for refined on-road dynamics.
Nissan X-Trail, Honda CRV, Hyundai ix35, Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sportage all present as refined compact SUVs so you’ll need to check for specific load-carrying abilities to suit your needs.